Bryan "Beanie" Bateman was not an average swim coach, not according to his students or others who knew him. When Patch ran a story about a plaque that had been commissioned in the late Hinsdale South Swim Club coach's honor, former students responded to share their memories about the man who was head coach there for five years.
Bateman had epilepsy and was driving home from a swim practice in December of 2009 when he had a seizure, lost control of the car and struck a tree.
Bateman had been a competitive swimmer for more than 17 years, before becoming a swim coach. The Hinsdale Central grad retired from competitive swimming in 2001, an 11-time state champion, 7-time state record holder, and two-time 20 and Under National Champion, with one 20 and Under national record.
Bryan Bateman, Sr., said his son had had the nickname "Beanie," since he was a little boy.
"As a baby he would never walk, he would always hop around. It actually started off as 'Beanie-bop,' because he’d bop around the house all the time, but it stuck," said Bateman.
Bateman said that when his son retired from competitive swimming, he could tell there was an emptiness that was left.
"It was apparent that he was missing something," said Bateman, who encouraged his son to try coaching, just to get back in the water. Beanie started coaching part-time with the Westmont Swim Club in 2000 and was hired as an assistant coach of the Hinsdale South, or "Hornet" Swim Club in 2002. The club is for students ages five to 17 and is open to any student who lives in District 86. After two years as assistant coach of the Hornet Swim Club, Beanie was promoted to head coach in 2004, at the age of 27.
Teaching more than technique
"He confided in me one day that coaching was more exciting and more fulfilling than being a swimmer ... He said watching students doing well and getting better, he got more satisfaction out of being a coach," said Bateman. Bateman said that for his son, coaching was about more than just teaching technique or shaving seconds off a swimmer's time in the pool.
"Beanie had his values in the right place. He wasn’t determined that this was going to be the number one team in Illinois. He saw his place as a coach who just wanted to help kids improve," said the elder Bateman, who was a swim coach in college himself. Bryan Bateman, Sr., and his wife Bay worked alongside their son as assistant coaches with the Hornet Swim Club for several years.
Bateman said he still remembers one interaction his son had with a new swimmer that really touched him. The swimmer was a six-year-old girl who had just joined the team.
"Beanie noticed she had tears in her eyes. He put his arm around her and asked what was wrong. She said, 'I’m afraid.' He told her, 'You don’t have to get in the water. You just stay with me'," remembered Bateman. Bateman said the little girl just walked around the pool with his son that day.
"The next day the same thing," said Bateman. "Then one day, she said, 'OK. I think I’m ready to swim now,' and she got in the water … She’s still swimming on the team."
Bateman remembered another young swimmer named Danny Thomson who Beanie and Bay taught how to swim. Thomson swam with the Hinsdale South Swim Club from sixth until ninth grade.
"This is a person who Beanie really connected with ... [Danny's] tremendously talented and a wonderful kid too," said Bateman.
Thomson is now a Hinsdale Central senior, who became an Olympic Trial qualifier for the 400-and 1500-freestyle in 2010.
Breaking through barriers
"I couldn't have gotten this far without him," said Thomson about the influence Beanie had on him as a swimmer. Thomson said when he was in elementary school, he used to become discouraged, because he could not place in the top three for the Junior Olympic meets.
"I was almost there, but could never do it," said Thomson. "What [Beanie] said that really resonated with me was, 'This is just the beginning of your swimming career ... Right now it seems like it's the end-all, be-all, but there will definitely be bigger and better meets ...Just keep pushing, and you'll break through. For now, just enjoy the ride'."
Thomson made his breakthrough in high school. He is currently a four-time NCSA Junior National Champion, three-time USA Swimming Junior National Medalist, three-time Illinois High School Association State Champion and Illinois State record holder. In December, he signed a National Letter of Intent to swim next year for Stanford University, under the coaching of a three-time USA Olympic swim coach.
"I don't think I would've tried as hard without [Beanie's] encouragement," said Thomson. "He always kept swimming fun for me ... He made it something to actually enjoy instead of just going back and forth, following a black line."
Thomson said Beanie emphasized that swimming was a team sport, which really helped prepare him for swimming in high school.
"Sometimes if the 13-and 14-year-olds were doing an exercise that was really hard, [Beanie] would have the 11-and-12s and 9-and-10-year-olds line up alongside the pool and cheer the kids on as a reminder to finish strong and not to give up in practice," said Thomson.
When it was time for Thomson to enter high school, Bateman said Beanie felt it was time for Thomson to move on. Although, Thomson was no longer a member of the Hinsdale South Swim Club, Beanie continued to watch Thomson compete.
"He wanted me to switch so I'd be swimming with kids my age, and it would be better for me as a swimmer," said Thomson. "I placed in the top 12 in the 500-freestyle my freshman year. I remember his genuine excitement for me, and I just placed ninth ... It wasn't like I won. He just really cared about me."
A lasting legacy
Bateman said his son made it a priority to get to know his students as people and spend time with them and their families outside swim practice. One family, the Gurkes, used to invite him along on fishing trips. Former swim club member Laura Gurke now swims for Hinsdale Central.
"He taught me—not only how to swim—but life lessons that I will live by for the rest of my life. Beanie made a huge impact on many swimmers' lives and also in the swimming world. I love him, miss him very much, and still think about him when I jump in the pool," said Gurke.
Gurke's younger sister Andrea, was also a student of Beanie's and now swims for Hinsdale Central also. She said his presence is still missed at the pool.
"Beanie was the best coach I ever had. I think of him every single day. In some ways that's good, because it's a constant reminder to push me to do my best," said Andrea Gurke.
Tab Bamford, who went to elementary school with Beanie at Prospect School in Clarendon Hills, and later swam with him at Hinsdale Central, said he had never experienced a more grounded or caring leader of a team than Beanie.
"I certainly wasn't an All-American. I swam between playing football and running track. But Beanie made me feel like I was one of the guys, and treated me as though I was his peer," said Bamford, who graduated from Central in 1998. "Anyone that swam with, or against, Beanie was blessed to know him."
Donations for the "Beanie" Bateman memorial plaque were collected by members of the O'Toole family, who live in Burr Ridge.
Ryan O'Toole is a rising senior at Hinsdale South, who was a student of Beanie's. O'Toole is the top long-distance swimmer for the Hornets and said that he can attribute much of the success of his swimming career to Beanie Bateman.
"Bryan Bateman, Jr., “Beanie,” was one of the most influential mentors in my young life and has changed who I am to this day for the better," said O'Toole. "He was not only a coach and a dear friend, but also a hero to me and hundreds of other swimmers. He has left an incredible legacy at the Hornet Swim Club as well as the Illinois Swimming community."
Bateman, Sr. said the thing he was most proud of about his son was the genuine connections he made with the kids he taught.
"[Beanie] went far beyond what I was ever able to accomplish in terms of how much he helped kids accomplish and their development," said Bateman. "That’s what I respected most about him. Most coaches don’t care to take it beyond the swimming pool, so to speak, and he did."